As a college student interested in government and politics, Stacey Hunter Hecht assumed she’d go on to law school. But her adviser at Penn State University helped steer her career in a different direction.
“He asked her why she wanted to get into the legal profession, then said, ‘You don’t have to go to law school to study the things you love,’ ” said her husband, Stephen Hecht.
That conversation — and a brief stint as a paralegal — convinced Hecht that her calling was in the classroom, not the courtroom. She earned a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Minnesota, and went on to become a professor and department head at Bethel University in St. Paul, where she found great satisfaction teaching American government, politics and political theory — and helping students figure out their own career paths.
“Her first love was teaching and mentoring,” Stephen said.
Hunter Hecht cared deeply about her students, according to Fred Van Geest, a Bethel political science professor who took over as department head after she stepped down last year to battle breast cancer; she died Dec. 9 at age 47. “She gave [students] good advice and challenged them. It was clear she loved them.”
Bethel’s political science department grew under her leadership, according to Van Geest. “A lot of students were attracted by her charisma and teaching abilities.” In addition to classroom teaching, Hunter Hecht also organized student educational events related to elections and the U.S. Constitution. Last year, she helped edit and wrote the preface for a book, “Presidential Swing States: Why Only 10 Matter,” with Hamline professor David Schultz.
Hunter Hecht was familiar to viewers of Twin Cities Public Television’s “Almanac,” on which she appeared 50 times over the past several years.
Producer Brendan Henehan recruited her for the show’s political panel after scouring college websites in search of different voices. As a woman, she brought a different perspective, he said. “It’s a rare thing to be teaching political science at a university and not be male.” And her role at Bethel, an evangelical Christian university, offered a window into young conservatives. “We depended on her for insights into evangelicalism in American political life.”
Hunter Hecht won over viewers with her substance and style, Henehan said. “She didn’t prepare one-liners; her analysis was thoughtful. She was absolutely nonpartisan — professional and interesting.”
In recent years, “Almanac” took the panel on the road, to the Minnesota State Fair and the Mayo Clinic.
“At the State Fair, it was overwhelming meeting fans in person,” Henehan said. “People were clapping, and she said, ‘This is unusual for us. We’re people who grade papers. We don’t have fans.’ ”
The Hechts grew up in the same town in suburban Pittsburgh, but didn’t meet until college, when both were working summer jobs for the parks and recreation department.
He was drawn to her wit, intelligence and outgoing personality, he said. “She never met anybody she didn’t want to know more about.”
Her wit also was appreciated at Bethel, said Van Geest. “She had such a strong, contagious laugh, and a really good sense of humor.”
After the Hechts adopted a baby girl from China in 2003, Hunter Hecht found another passion, becoming actively involved in the Chinese American Association of Minnesota and its Chinese Dance Theater. “Her passion was to make sure our daughter had an opportunity to know her culture,” Stephen said.
In addition to her husband and their daughter, Rosalind, Hunter Hecht is survived by her mother Sherry (Donald) Peters, and sister Amy (Daniel) Zugell.
A gathering to remember Hunter Hecht will be held 4 to 8 p.m. Dec. 16 at Holcomb-Henry-Boom-Purcell Funeral Home, 515 Hwy. 96 W., Shoreview. A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Dec. 17 at Como Park Lutheran Church, 1376 W. Hoyt Av., St. Paul.